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Published on May 12, 2016
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries and these injuries cost more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses and worker compensation.
To help mitigate eye injuries, some industries are required to have emergency eyewash stations to wash away chemicals, biological agents and other substances. These eyewash stations, whether permanently connected to a source of potable water (i.e., plumbed) or having self-contained flushing fluid, need proper maintenance or they may present health hazards that can worsen or cause additional damage to a worker’s eye.
OSHA reports that water found in improperly maintained eyewash stations is more likely to contain organisms (e.g., Acanthamoeba, Pseudomonas, Legionella) that thrive in stagnant or untreated water and are known to cause infections. When a worker uses an eyewash station that is not maintained, organisms in the water may come into contact with the eye, skin or may be inhaled. Workers using eyewash stations after exposure to a hazardous chemical or material may have eye injuries that make the eye more susceptible to infection. Also, workers with skin damage or compromised immune systems (e.g., transplant recovery, cancer, lupus) are at increased risk for developing illnesses from contaminated water.
The following is a partial list from OSHA of a few of the organisms that can thrive in eyewash stations when they are not maintained properly. They include:
• Acanthamoeba which is a microscopic single cell organism (amoeba) that may cause eye infections. This organism can live in treated water and on rare occasions, exposure results in harmful eye infections known as Acanthamoeba keratitis. • Pseudomonas aeruginosa may cause infections to eyes, skin, muscle, lung and other tissues. This bacterium has developed resistance to many antibiotics. • Legionella is a group of bacteria that are found in water often living with amoeba and may cause a serious lung infection. Acanthamoeba are effective hosts for Legionella, they may both be present in contaminated water. Legionella does not cause eye infections, but inhaling water droplets containing it can cause Legionnaires’ disease.
These are just a few things to know about eyewash stations and potential contamination concerns. To learn more about this or other occupational, environmental, health or safety issues, please visit the websites shown below.